The second largest holy city in the world, Mashhad attracts more than 20 million tourists and pilgrims every year, many of whom come to pay homage to the Imam Reza Shirne (the eighth Shi’ie Imam). It has been a magnet for travellers since medieval times the tombs of historical celebrities in nearby Tus and Neyshabour, the tomb of Nadir Shah are the tomb of the great poet Ferowsi in Tus. goodtravel by good-travel.ir
Imam Reza Shrine Complex in mashhad
The Imam Reza Shrine Complex, known as the Haram-e Razavi, dominates the city centre and needs several visits to properly appreciate the scope of its magnificence. With seven massive courtyards, and a total area of nearly 600,000 square metres, by some measures it is the largest mosque in the world. The millions of pilgrims who flock to the shrine all year round from all over the world endow this part of the city with a decidedly multicultural atmosphere, and there is a tangible sense of the spiritual as visitors demonstratively mourn the 8th Imam’s martyrdom. Intricate blue tile work and Arabic calligraphy are virtually omnipresent across the numerous iwans and minarets, and an impressive golden dome stands centrally above the shrine itself. Non-Muslims are not permitted into the inner sanctuary, and (confusingly) only camera phones are permitted.
Shrine Complex Museums
The numerous museums contained within the shrine complex house a curious mixture of exhibits, ranging from stamp collections commemorating the storming of the US embassy, to medals won by Shia athletes. The carpet section has some stunning (as well as bizarre) pieces, but the most fascinating item is the previous tomb encasement (known as ‘zarih’) which was replaced in 2001. If you are keen to know more about the history of the shrine, seek out the ‘Foreign Pilgrims Assistance Office’ where friendly employees will provide you with some free literature on the topic. Beware the guards with feather-dusters who will brush you if you’re not dressed modestly enough.
Kuh-E Sangi Park
Kuh-e Sangi is Mashhad’s best park, and a great spot for afternoon or early evening picnicking. A small stream runs through its centre, which you can cross by climbing the rock formations or hopping across stepping-stones. Ice cream and other treats are readily available. The park is filled with Iranian families most evenings, and boasts excellent views of the city from its highest point. If you’re lucky, you may stumble across groups of old Iranian men singing national songs at the weekend.
Mashhad is the saffron-centre of the world, and you won’t get a better deal anywhere where else than in the bazaars around Fakaleh Ab square. The spice, which is gram-for-gram more expensive than gold, makes for an excellent souvenir or present. Mashhadi carpets are also particularly revered, so be prepared to haggle your way to a good price. Pilgrimage memorabilia lines the streets too, having your portrait superimposed in front of the Imam’s shrine is a especially quirky crowd favourite.
Boq’eh-Ye Khajeh Rabi
The Boq’eh-ye Khajeh Rabi is an ornate mausoleum for one of the apostles of the Prophet Mohammad, located in northeast Mashhad, just off Khajerab Street. Completed in 1612, and touched up in the Qajar era, the tomb features familiar Iranian blue tile work, delicate floral motifs, and a pleasingly symmetrical central dome. It is surrounded by a large cemetery, where wealthy Iranians can still purchase a burial plot.
Tomb of Ferdowsi, Tus
About 40 kilometres outside of Mashhad is the small town of Tus, which is synonymous with the burial site of Iran’s national poet, Ferdowsi. The author of the epic poem, the Shahnameh (the Persian Book of Kings), Ferdowsi died in 1020 A.D, and his remains have rested in Tus ever since. The mausoleum’s current form, a massive stone structure that imitates Achaemenid architecture, was developed in the 1960s, and is the centrepiece of a surrounding park.
Rural Khorasan has many off-the-beaten track delights to discover, often hard to access by public transport, but worth the effort of hiring a private taxi. The quaint village of Kang, about an hour’s drive from Mashhad, is one particularly charming example. Filled with mud-brick houses, stacked along the foothills of the mountains, here is a wonderful opportunity to explore one of the few communities that still practice such an authentically traditional way of life.